Tucked in between a Saturday storm and one the following evening, it was a clear, sunny day in Queens for the 20th annual St. Pat’ for All Parade on March 3.
Led by its grand marshals, the renowned actress Fionnula Flanagan (appearing in “The Ferryman” on Broadway) and dancer/ choreographer Seán Curran, the parade stepped off in Sunnyside with its largest contingent ever.
“This is my first time at the parade,” Curran said. “I’m the son of Irish immigrants: my father was from Kerry, my mom is from Roscommon. I grew up with step-dancing in Boston, and it led me to a life in the arts. I’ve been told I have an Irish voice as an artist.”
Much has changed — and some things have stayed the same — since Brendan Fay and a dedicated group of activists founded the parade in 2000 as an inclusive alternative to other city St. Patrick’s parades that at that time would not let LGBTQ people march.
“Twenty years later, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made,” said out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, a Jackson Heights Democrat. Dromm marches in Queens every year, and is now on the Scholarship Committee for the Fifth Avenue parade held each March 17, an event that welcomed the LGBTQ Lavender & Green Alliance into its ranks three years ago.
“I’m also proud of the leaders in Staten Island, including Borough President James Oddo, Congressman Max Rose, and Councilmember Debi Rose, who withdrew from the Staten Island parade because it is not inclusive,” Dromm added.
Organizers of that borough’s march have repeatedly refused permission for the Pride Center of Staten Island to participate.
Fay said, “From the stage, I looked at the crowds gathered there to celebrate St Pats For All at 20 and I saw a movement that transformed the pain of LGBT exclusion into a cultural celebration of welcome and solidarity that has changed hearts and history.”
His co-chair, Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, remarked, “Some people have asked if we were going on after we got to march in the Fifth Avenue Parade. But the numbers for this one have been growing every single year. I knew we would last when I saw how the community welcomed us. We wouldn’t stop having this parade for any reason.”
Many elected officials as well as those running for office march in the annual event that travels from Sunnyside to Woodside. Last year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez participated as a Democratic primary hopeful for Congress. This year, she returned as the district’s representative in the US House.
“I went to public school in Westchester, and there was Irish culture all around me,” she recalled. “There was an attitude of acceptance and a lot of humanity and joy. And this parade, of course, is one of the best community events around. I’m excited to be marching in it!”
Ocasio-Cortez happily hugged and chatted with other elected officials, and parade spectators crowded around her for a word or a selfie, many remarking on her sharp questioning in the Michael Cohen hearing. The parade’s elder — though young-at-heart — statesman, activist/ actor/ storyteller Malachy McCourt, serenaded her with “Wild Mountain Thyme” the Irish ballad that’s the parade’s unofficial theme song.
Reflecting on the recent progress in opening up St. Patrick’s Day Parades to queer contingents, McCourt, said, “Finally, people are understanding that other peoples’ love lives are their own business! Finally! As long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.”
At noon, the crowd and marchers were welcomed by Fay and Walsh D’Arcy. A parade of city, state and national representatives, dignitaries, and honored guests were introduced and addressed the crowd, including both grand marshals, and Ciarán Madden, the consul general of Ireland in New York. Borough President Melinda Katz presented Fay and Walsh D’Arcy with a Proclamation of Honor, declaring March 3 to be “St. Pat’s for All Day” in Queens.
Just after 1 p.m., the parade stepped off, with Dr. Tom Moulton, Fay’s husband, waving Gilbert Baker’s huge Irish flag. He was followed by the FDNY Emerald Society Pipe & Drum Band and the St. Pat’s for All banner, held by Fay, Walsh D’Arcy, and other St. Pat’s for All organizers, the grand marshals, Madden, Dromm, Ocasio-Cortez, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, and State Attorney General Tish James. The honor guard from the FDNY, joined by Commissioner Daniel Nigro, followed, with by the Lavender & Green Alliance right behind.
Marchers held up larger-than-life papier-mâché figures of LGBTQ heroes Oscar Wilde and Queens own Robert Rygor as well as heroine Eva Gore Booth, the poet and labor activist, and were joined by the Absurdist Pipe Band, a trio of wacky musicians from Drogheda, Ireland (Fay’s home town), who had the crowd laughing at their antics and singing along with their unusual arrangements of traditional Irish as well as pop songs.
The New York City Council contingent included Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Sunnyside, Speaker Corey Johnson, other Queens Councilmember Costa Constantinides, Barry Grodenchik, and Rory Lancman, out gay Brooklynite Carlos Menchaca, and the Upper West Side’s Helen Rosenthal.
Van Bramer said, “My mother has marched with me in this parade every year. And this year, we have an amazing new voice in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She and the other women leaders stand on the shoulders of my 79-year-old mother, who has always been there for me.”
Comptroller Scott Stringer, like Johnson eyeing a mayoral run in 2021, brought a contingent of staff and supporters, and Katz, who, along with Lancman, is running for Queens district attorney, marched with her staff.
Other announced DA candidates who will compete in a June primary also joined the parade, including public defender Tiffany Cabán, former Civilian Complaint Review Board executive director Mina Malik, and former Supreme Court Justice Greg Lasak.
In addition to James, the new attorney general, other state officials on hand included Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and Assemblymembers Catherine Nolan, Brian Barnwell, and Catalina Cruz.
For the first time in the parade’s 20-year, there were no anti-gay protesters. Marchers commented, in particular, on the absence of an elderly woman who had been a fixture, always holding a sign: “A SACRILIGIOUS LESBIAN AND HOMOSEXUAL PARADE.”
The Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens was followed by the Shannon Gaels GAA (a youth athletic club, complete with hurling sticks and a portable goal), then the anti-poverty organization Children in the Crossfire and the Kaisokah Moko Jumbies from Brooklyn, stilt walkers in resplendent costumes, longtime parade favorites.
There was plenty of Irish dance with the McManus Irish Dancing School and the O’Donnell Academy of Irish Dance stepping off next. The parade’s music director, Brian Fleming, on a flatbed truck led the St. Pat’s All Stars, with Dave Barkow on vocals and guitar, Paddy Glynn on banjo, Mol on bass, and Fleming on bodhrán. Niall O’Leary’s School of Irish Dance showed off their stuff to the strains of the All Stars’ versions of Irish traditional and American pop classics. They were followed by the Fitzpatrick Academy of Irish Dance.
A horse-drawn carriage trotted behind, a reminder that driving carriages is a traditionally Irish job and the city’s Irish Americans tend not to support efforts to curb the industry. McCourt waved from a car, blowing kisses and well wishes to all and sundry.
The Hungry March Band, a Brooklyn-based brass and percussion ensemble, made its St. Pat’s for All debut to an appreciative crowd. Dublin’s SAOL Project, which helps women out of addiction and poverty, marched, followed by the County Cork Pipes & Drums, Dignity New York, the LGBTQ Catholic group, and the Woodside/ Sunnyside Runners.
Other activist groups marching included the All-Ireland Referendum, Vietnam Vets Against the War, Saoirse Palestine, Irish Against Racism, Witness Against Torture, the Saint Maura Clarke Memorial, Veterans for Peace, the 1916 Society, the Kings Bay Plowshares, Stop the US Base in Okinawa, No Nukes, Divest Nukes, the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network, and the Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire Coalition.
Fogo Azul NYC, the drummers who lead the Dyke March, made their presence felt with a percussive parade debut, followed by the Ethical Humanist Society of Queens and Woodside on the Move. The Stonewall Democrats of New York City marched with the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, the Queens County Young Democrats, the JFK Democratic Club, the New Visions Democratic Club, and the West Queens Independent Democrats.
The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Marching Band is another parade favorite, and its members marched wearing Irish flags in their hats. They were followed by the Long Island Crisis Center, Pride for Youth, and PFLAG-Queens.
The Marching Cobras, a youth drum corps from Harlem and a longtime crowd favorite, were followed by a Chinese Dragon and Drum contingent. Disability Pride had a contingent, and a group of bikers rode for Protected Bike Lines, carrying signs urging “Skillman Ave & 43rd St. for All!”
Members of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, longtime parade veterans, many wearing both green costumes and hair, had the crowd, many of them wearing union hats and jackets, chanting, “Get up! Get down! New York is a union town!”
The final marching group represented longtime favorites SUDS: The Sunnyside United Dog Society, a contingent that had many canines wearing Irish accessories.
As the parade halted just before Roosevelt Avenue, marchers streamed away to area bars and restaurants, and an impromptu jam session broke out with the Big Apple Corps, the Marching Cobras, the Hungry Band, the Chinese Dragon Dancers and Drummers, and the Rude Mechanicals all joining in. The musicians riffed off each other, danced, laughed, and urged the crowd to sing along. They might not have been in perfect harmony, but they certainly played well together.